Coming out and getting back on track
11 November 2019
Trans Awareness Week is an opportunity to learn about gender identity and to help promote understanding and support for the trans, non-binary and gender fluid communities in the workplace. Below we hear from Sev and his parents, including PwC Partner, Jonathan Howe.
Coming out hasn’t elevated my life into some incredible and permanently perfect state. Rather, coming out has allowed my life, which was becoming derailed, to get back on track to that of any regular teen.
It was a relatively short time, for me, between discovering what it means to be trans and coming out as so. After not knowing what was wrong but feeling so uncomfortable and isolated for so long, when I eventually found out about being trans I felt such a flood of relief. I knew that was me, I knew there was a solution to the desperation I was feeling. The final push which gave me the courage to come out to my parents was watching the gender euphoria of trans people in a pride parade celebrating their identities. I was tired of being unhappy in myself and the fact that no one, not even my parents, knew the real me. So I told them who I was.
Whilst my parents received me with a will for my happiness, their circle of knowledge on the subject at the beginning was not only limited but also from a different cis circle to mine. My mother, especially, was concerned about my wellbeing and bullying and such, believing I’d be better asserting myself in the world before socially transitioning. I knew this wasn’t possible for me. I have never experienced any personal attacks on my gender since coming out but that wouldn’t have made any difference to my transition. Whether accepted or not, being transgender is who I am and won’t go away. Any ridicule doesn’t come close to the feeling of not being out.
Ironically it’s the same cis media which stokes fear over the trans community that also warns parents of trans kids how dangerous the world is for us. In reality, my day consists of wondering what’s for dinner and spending hours on homework only to leave it at home. I’m not in constant pain or fear and just because I’m not yet where I want my transition to finish, it doesn’t mean I’m unable to enjoy now. I know that after top surgery I will be able to experience life to a fuller extent and hormones have given me so much more confidence in how I present myself (not speaking because you’re insecure over the pitch of your voice can quickly become a very isolating experience).
Dysphoria can be incredibly intense and transitioning went such a long way in alleviating this for me and since my parents realised the necessity of transitioning and prioritised it, navigating the world as a trans person becomes so much easier. Previous to this realisation, worried about negative experiences for me, my parents pushed back on the idea of transitioning immediately but this just meant that they created my first negative experience themselves despite intentions. With such a broader understanding now, my parents are one of the biggest supports in my transition. My relationship with them is deeper now as I can be honest with who I am, I’m not hidden under an exterior presentation that I can’t connect to.
Of course, cis people, including my parents, will never understand or relate to my experiences as other trans people do. As such, Gendered Intelligence has been such a significant organisation in my life. Having not, to my knowledge, known another trans person personally in my area, to have a space for only trans has been so important. At GI I’m both understood and not questioned or doubted. To have spaces where there is a guarantee that I can freely be myself has made me more comfortable with my identity and who I am. Just because my parents can’t relate to my experiences on the same level as cis people, it doesn’t mean home can’t also be a place like this too.
I also want to emphasise that it may appear that being trans sums up all my life but that is solely because this is a space to talk about my experiences as a trans person. I am trans but I’m not only trans. My life doesn’t revolve around my transness nor does it take up all my thoughts. I don’t just sit in a corner just being trans. I go to college, walk my dog, get bored by football and spend money I don’t have on things I don’t need - just like any other kid.
I’m immensely proud of my 18 year old son. We have lived together for all that time but I have only known him as my son for the past 4 years.
When Severus first told me that he was a boy my initial reaction was relief. The look on his face was of someone nervous, frightened and very alone. When he told me, his dad, that he had been living as the wrong gender I was actually relieved as the build up to his announcement had led me to anticipate a serious illness or maybe a run in with the police! It’s fair to say that my initial reaction was a major underestimate of the difficulties, practical as well as emotional, that we would experience over the following years.
As a parent you will go through a lot of emotions when you are told that the gender you thought your child was turns out to be wrong. Lots of what you thought you knew is thrown into the air and of course your expectations and dreams for the future need some significant recalibrating. I started by telling myself that I hadn’t lost a daughter but that I had gained a son. Then I told myself that this was wrong. I hadn’t lost anything, I just had the same child with different pronouns. But then I realised the truth. For the first time I had my real child. Someone who has become confident, strong, mostly happy and a typical teenager. It’s been a long and difficult journey but the destination has been worth it.
Transgender awareness has grown hugely over the past few years, and for all the newspaper sensationalisation, this must be a good thing. The support that Sev and our family has received has been amazing, whether this has been from his school, the army cadets, PricewaterhouseCoopers and friends and family. I can’t think of anyone or any organisation that hasn’t been positive, accepting and supportive. However, it is still difficult to find practical help; where can we meet others who are experiencing the same thing, where is the best place to buy chest binders, where to buy clothes that will fit and what medical treatments are available and at what age. And of course how to deal with the mental health challenges that the whole family experienced at different times. An initial 6 month waiting list with the NHS moved to 8 months, then 12 and then 18. We are lucky to be able to obtain private care but this is not widely available and also currently subject to much controversy with regard to treating the under 18s.
But there is help out there. There are great organisations such as Gendered Intelligence who provide professional and practical support and a place for trans kids to just be themselves. And there are many individuals who understand what the families and friends experience. In any quest there will be a turning point. For me it was a conversation with a client, a FD of an insurance company, over drinks. It turned out she had many contacts within the trans community and set up a number of introductions for Sev with people who had been through what he was about to go through and had come out the other side. These positive, uplifting and hugely motivating meetings helped us realise that it was all going to be okay.
Life can be difficult and challenging but it can also be hugely rewarding. Now when I look at Sev I see a confident young man, someone who understands himself much better than I did at his age and someone who is committed to helping and supporting others. That is something to be proud of.
I remember when I gave birth to my second child not only feeling lucky that the baby was fit and healthy but also feeling that I had been blessed with having both a boy and a girl. One of each! I realise now that is such a cis way of looking at the world, a young mum naively honed by society and the narrow confines of blue versus pink. So, yes, I did struggle with the initial grief of losing something I thought I had lost. Of course, all I actually lost is a concept, a point of view and obviously not a child.
As parents we weren’t slow to try and support Sev but we struggled to know how at times. One day while tearfully looking at a pile of girls clothes being evicted from the wardrobe, Sev came up to me, hugged me and told me about a Youtube video I should watch by another parent who had gone through the same thing. Sev then sympathetically told me that things would get better with time. He has always had a wise head but this was a perfect example of how even at the age of 14 he knew that this was going to be a major adjustment for all the family.
As a mum I was anxious to protect my child from the pain that I perceived such an adjustment would bring in the form of bullying or non acceptance from others. Not initially realising or understanding the emotional pain Sev was already experiencing. Being supportive in the right way is something that I have learned through trial and error. The most explicit way to do this is to use the correct pronoun as soon as possible which I hope we did. Sev also involved us with choosing his new name which meant a great deal to us.
As we actively embraced Sev’s transition journey we literally watched him start to have hope and begin to flourish. In the quest to get the help to do this we have experienced repetitive counselling sessions, sat in numerous waiting rooms to see medics, filled out form after form and come up against ridiculously long waiting times. These challenges have been incredibly tough at times where frustration and fear of not getting the help and support we have needed has been almost overwhelming. However, despite this we have been able to laugh at some of the hurdles and we have become very close through the shared journey even if it’s been experienced from different perspectives.
I am so proud of Sev and can honestly say he is the bravest and strongest person I know and his transition has helped to shape him into the person he is today. Life is full of numerous challenges for us all and we never know what is round the next corner but Sev has met them head on so far. He is of course still a regular teenager who can be stroppy, talk endlessly about American politics and never tidy his room. He is also my youngest son, my friend and someone who I think can make a real difference to the world as he is both thoughtful and passionate about the issues he cares for.